Penang: Winding down

Posted: June 8, 2010 in Cycle touring South Thailand & Malaysia 2010
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Thursday May 13, 2010, 28 km (17 miles) – Total so far: 999 km (621 miles)

For the first time in as many days, I had the luxury of waking up at a very ‘late’ 7.45 am. Since the start of this trip, every morning was a routine of wake up, sit up, look around and wonder, “Where am I?”

Check windows and look for daylight or rather the lack of it on those 5.45 am mornings. Funnily enough I couldn’t sleep any more past 8 today, so I decided to stare at the ceiling fan. I do have air con, which in combo with the fan takes care of drying laundry every night.

Komtar towers above Georgetown

Very looking forward to not packing up and ride to the next destination. Then I hit the TV remote. Nothing. Check power. Still nothing. Kaput. Changing rooms was OK with the reception. Trouble is, with all the stuff that I have spread all over, a room on the same floor would be nice.

No, none, walk one floor down to 202. OK. Transfer everything. Check TV. It works, very well, more channels even, but the channel buttons are missing. Went down to reception again, for the third time. After he’s had his fun, he smiles and takes out a Samsung remote bearing Room No 202 and hands it over.

If I feel like it later, I might let out some air from the tyres of his new Honda Accord in the parking lot.

Georgetown is a walker’s delight. The morning markets, old colonial shophouses, back lanes and side streets are a microcosm of everyday life, of the locals whose urban surroundings haven’t changed much in the last 100 years. Putting aside traffic congestion, the tourists poking their noses into everything and a cluster of backpacker related services, life has been the same for decades.

Like Singapore, the ethnic races of the Chinese, Malay and Indians and others that have been thrown into the mix seem to co exist just fine. Racial tensions of the past have died down and should stay that way since hey, there’s some fine food to be savoured from each other’s ethnic group. Penang like Singapore has also a majority Chinese population, so the city is teeming and buzzing with shops and trading at all hours.

One fantastic difference from Thailand though, is that everyone manages a smattering of English, because of tourism, so I like most other visitors, felt right at home.

Durian season is here

Recently put on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Georgetown is booming with new guesthouses, restaurants, beautifully restored temples, mosques and churches for the three main faiths, and you guessed it trinket and T shirt shops. And don’t forget lightning fast internet with everyone on Facebook. Seriously, last night the girl next to me was typing so fast and hard, it sounded like heavy rain on zinc sheets, I mean on the keyboards.

A downside of Skype is that Mr Dreadlocks sitting next to me is loudly talking to this girlfriend back in Reading, England on how much he misses her and sending virtual kisses her way. Before long everyone knows how much her garden is blooming, when she’ll inherit the house, and her shoe size. God almighty, if you have to smooch a public computer screen and hoping that the boys in the local pub aren’t going for your GF, why on earth did you leave her and go backpack around the world, alone ????

To meet more girls that’s why !

I am not against independent travel. Or Skyping. My gripe here is the inconsiderate volume of the conversation, that’s all. Bobby’s trigger finger is getting twitchy already.


You can ride around the island on Rte 6, in a matter of hours, there are some steep hills in the remote west, after the flat northern beaches which were hit by the 2004 tsunami also. While just riding unloaded looking for breakfast and lunch, I managed a leisurely 28 kms, with an interesting afternoon at, an extremely bicycle friendly place. Bicycles parked inside on a bike rack. That’s a first.

I had wanted to ride some more to the beaches about 10 kms away but got side tracked at the venerable Eastern & Oriental Hotel downtown. It was literally a step back into time, as you can tell from their guest list comprising even Joseph Conrad and Mahatma Ghandi.

Last stop was at Cycleon Cycles to ask for a box. The nicest of nice guys, Gary Yap trained at UBI in Ashland, Oregon.

Great, no charge too, then comes the usual moving spectacle. Everyone gawking at a moving cardboard box, as I gently navigate my way back to the Hong Ping, with a clear view only my right.

Vestiges of British rule



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